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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

Week # 36: "Oliver & Company"

(Originally published on 9/9/22)


Oliver & Company

Run time: 74 min.

Release Date: November 18, 1988.

Where/when I first saw it: Randhurst Cinema, 1988 (maybe a Saturday morning sneak preview)

How I watched it today: Blu-ray, Monday morning (Labor Day)

With “Oliver & Company,” Disney tried a safer approach, but with a crucial element after trying their hand at PG-rated fantasy and a Sherlock Holmes variation. They went back to two Disney playbook staples: adapting a literary classic that would be familiar to many in the audience and populating the story with adorable cats and dogs. A safe bet all around. The crucial element they added was a jolt of energy within the music by making the songs contemporary and making those musical numbers spring to life in a way they hadn’t since “The Aristocats.” By adding popular artists like Huey Lewis, Billy Joel and Bette Midler (under contract with Disney at the time), “Oliver & Company” showed the studio stepping into yet another new direction in hopes of keeping the animation studio afloat.

And just as I remember, it mostly worked. The film came out the same weekend as Don Bluth’s third animated feature, “The Land Before Time,” a film that borrowed heavily from “Bambi,” but with dinosaurs. Parents had the choice of either taking their kids to see a tale in which a homeless kitten gets taken in by high society folk while a group of pickpocket dogs try to get him back into their gang or they could take the kids to see a tale of a dinosaur who loses his mother and has to learn to walk through the world alone. Both of these films were successful (I remember working at a movie theater that weekend and never getting a break) and got mostly good reviews.

Still, “Olive & Company” lacked a certain something to make it an indisputable classic. Perhaps it was a memorable villain. Or maybe the story just felt too familiar. Disney needed something to take this new form to the next level. The film’s success lies with the musical sequences and the songwriting of Howard Ashman, certainly the best the studio had heard at that time since the days of the Sherman Brothers. A stand-out sequence is Midler’s song, which culminates with Busby Berkeley-like flourishes that showed the animators hadn’t given up on the artform and could still surprise. This sequence alone showed that maybe they were onto something.


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